Since I started making my presentations more beautiful, people have often asked me my secret. It’s not a secret, and it’s really quite simple to do.
First, realize that it’s not about you. It’s about your audience. Now, get and read a few good books on presentations. Your presentations, and your presentation skills, need to be good. You can’t just make things beautiful to compensate for badness in other areas. This is something I’m always working on. (On the other hand, many a great presenter has doomed him/herself with awful slides.)
Second, develop great content, and practice it. See the books above.
Third, use a good professionally-designed template. Pay $30 for crying out loud. Are you a graphic designer? No? How much is your time worth? I’ve bought Keynote templates from Keynote Pro among other places. I’ve also hired people to help build custom slides for important talks, such as keynote addresses at major conferences.
Finally, and this is the part I enjoy the most: I rarely put text alone on a slide. I’ll almost always choose a master that has space for a little text (and I usually try to use only a few words) and an image. I’ll emphasize this: use only a couple of words on the slides. The words on the slide should cue you, if necessary, to remember what to talk about. For the audience, they should convey the overall theme — think of it as hashtags — of the things you’re talking about now. Do not put the full content on the slides.
Then I find an image that seems to fit. My favorite way to do this is a Flickr search for CC-licensed content, sorted by interestingness.
In Chrome, I use a custom search engine. The keyword is “f” and the URL pattern is:
Try it. Here’s a Flickr search for heart, for example. Isn’t that a beautiful page full of images?
Even if your slides are a boring template, and your talk isn’t that great, and your presentation skills aren’t that polished, your audience will automatically find your talk much more pleasant now. And it’s all about your audience. Remember that!